Sunday, May 31, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Yens Pedersen Policy Review

When Yens Pedersen's platform was first released early on in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign, it looked entirely likely to be overtaken by the other candidates' eventual policy proposals. In retrospect, though, Pedersen's platform has held up remarkably well over the course of the campaign - with the only downside being that some of the more distinctive ideas don't seem to have sparked a lot of discussion even in the leadership race.

Thoroughness - 9/10

If anything, Pedersen looks to have erred on the side of overinclusion: his platform includes a set of broad principles on five main issues before delving into proposals which cover the vast majority of provincial functions and responsibilities.

Consistency - 6/10

Of course, the problem with proposing a lot of different ideas is that some are likely to come in conflict. And there are at least a few apparent contradictions within Pedersen's platform - most obviously his musings that health care should be brought under central administration, to be followed by a discussion as to whether municipalities ought to bear responsibility. Either of those ideas could make sense in principle, but it's hard to find a unifying theme in s platform that proposes centralization first, then a discussion of increased decentralization on a single issue.

Creativity - 8/10

While Pedersen's platform includes some well-worn content, it also raises a reasonable number of new ideas - some of which simply haven't registered as issues, others of which haven't been looked at from the angle which Pedersen offers (e.g. for all the talk about electricity generation, I'm not aware of many others raising the option of phasing out coal-fired power entirely).

Support - 8/10

Pedersen's platform itself is limited to describing his ideas in point form. But having put his ideas in the public eye early, he's had a chance to expand on them and back them up through subsequent press conferences as well as the leadership debate, and has presented strong arguments in favour of his policies when given an opening to do so.

Pragmatism - 6/10

Here's where Pedersen's platform runs into the most significant problems, as a number of his proposals look to be potential lightning rods for criticism and comparatively few would have obvious support constituencies to overcome any opposition. Most notably, Pedersen's call to fundamentally reorganize municipal structures and responsibilities would obviously raise significant opposition among the structures which now handle the issues in question. Meanwhile, there would be few obvious supporters since a general discussion process wouldn't leave any clear beneficiaries until after the fact.

Likewise, a coal power phaseout would naturally be subject to criticism from the parts of the province who depend on it, and a firm timeline for asbestos remediation might meet with resistance as a less than optimal use of public resources - while again there would figure to be a limited number of people willing to take a strong stand on Pedersen's side of the issues.

In sum, there's plenty within Pedersen's platform which deserves more discussion, both in the limited time available in the leadership race and beyond. But there's also plenty of room for additional polish and revision to put Pedersen's vision in terms which are more likely to win broad support - and less likely to raise fierce opposition.

The Big Idea

Unfortunately, an idea which Pedersen himself describes as potentially the "single largest advancement in social justice in 50 years" seems to have received little attention over the course of the campaign. But Pedersen's proposal for a combined system of child care and early learning - with the goal of building toward a universal system incorporating both - would indeed be a massive step forward in developing greater opportunities for Saskatchewan's children.

As with many of Pedersen's proposals, though, there is some concern as to how the idea is structured. Pedersen's plan is to fund the early learning program out of non-renewable resource revenues, using the rationale that one-time resources are best put into investments whose benefits may be felt in the longer term. While that message may have some appeal for the moment (particularly with oil prices beginning to climb again), I'd think there are significant long-term risks in tying a structural program to non-renewable revenues: not only is the resource bound to run out at some point, but even in the short term the viability of the program in its building stages would be entirely at the mercy of commodity prices.

Instead, to build up from the limited child care available to a universal system would seem to me to require a long-term commitment that isn't tied to uncertain revenues. And even if that proves more difficult to sell in the short term (which itself isn't clear since there's no reason why investment can't simply be targeted during resource booms rather than linked to the revenue stream), the long-term goal of implementing the system would make the tougher road more than worth it.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

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